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Subjunctive in English

Home » Advanced English Grammar » Subjunctive in English

Subjunctive in English

We mostly use the subjunctive in English with hypothetical-type situations to express requests, desires, uncertainty, and suggestions.

Normally, we use the subjunctive in English with common verbs, that due to their nature, usually take the subjunctive mood. Common verbs that take the subjunctive:

  • Ask, request, desire, want, insist, recommend and advise.

The subjunctive takes the infinitive of the verb

  • Mary lives in Kensington, London.
  • It is my wish that Mary live in Kensington, London.

Both sentences are correct. The first sentence does not use the subjunctive, while the second sentence does use it. Hence, the infinitive ‘live’ and not the third-person singular form ‘lives’.

Therefore, even in the third-person singular, if using subjunctive-type-verbs, then it is appropriate to insert the infinitive as the subjunctive to express desire or importance-related nuances.  

English has a subjunctive?

Romance languages like Spanish, French, and Italian all harbour and utilise the subjunctive, but does English also have a subjunctive? Yes. It does.

Most natives don’t even know that they use it, and they probably wouldn’t even recognise it if they saw it, but it certainly exists, and it should be implemented when expressing something important or desirable.

Such verbs that would go well with the English subjunctive are: ask, request, desire, want, insist, recommend, advise.

The subjunctive forms can be used in present and past forms. The subjunctive is the infinitive of every verb and is usually camouflaged, and there can be no difference except for in the third-person singular, as can be seen in the charts below.

However, when using the third-person singular, it can be distinguished. Let’s take a look at the charts below, one with no subjunctive and the other which includes the subjunctive.

Present simple — no subjunctive

I go We go
You go You (guys) go
He/she/it goes  They go

Present simple — with the subjunctive

I go We go
You go You (guys) go
He/she/it go They go

Given that the subjunctive in English takes the infinitive form, the only case in which you will notice it is in the third-person singular, as can be seen above.

The subjunctive is used with common verbs of desire and request

  • I ask you to go and deliver the form.
  • He asked James that he share the news. (third-person singular, no ‘s’)
  • It is essential that the company grow in order to prosper.  (the third-person singular, no ‘s’)
  • My advice for handling the situation is you call the police.
  • His recommendation is that Sally return to her apartment. (third-person singular, no ‘s’).

The subjunctive is used for fixed phrases

  • God bless you.
  • God save the queen.
  • Be that as it may.
  • Long live your marriage.
  • Long live…

In English, there are a certain number of fixed phrases that due to their nature will always require the subjunctive. 

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